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Chinese authorities delete tennis star's #MeToo post

November 4, 2021

Chinese authorities have censored almost all online discussion of a tennis star's allegations against a former top official. The censorship highlights the sensitivity around the private lives of Communist Party leaders.

Peng Shuai on the tennis court at the Australian Open in 2020
Peng Shuai's account was not visible on Sina Weibo after her sexual assault accusationsImage: Andy Brownbill/AP Photo/picture alliance

Chinese authorities worked Thursday to squelch all online discussion of the sexual assault accusation made by professional tennis star Peng Shuai against former vice premier and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli.

The censorship highlights the sensitivity of Communist Party officials to public disclosures concerning their private lives.

Shift - Living in the Digital Age

Peng shares sexual assault allegation

In a long social media post on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang, now 75, forced her to have sex despite being repeatedly told no after a round of tennis in Beijing three years ago.

"I was so frightened that afternoon, never thinking that this thing could happen," Peng wrote.

She also said they had sex once seven years ago and that she developed feelings for him following that encounter.

The post disappeared after approximately 30 minutes, but searches for her name spiked and screenshots circulated in private WeChat messages, over iMessage and on Twitter, which is banned in China.

By Thursday, a search for Peng's account on Sina Weibo yielded no results. The account had seemingly vanished or had been taken down.

Peng is a former top-ranked doubles player who secured 23 tour-level doubles titles, including Grand Slams at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French open in 2014. Peng has not played at the top level since the Qatar Open in early 2020.

Senior leaders' private lives a sensitive topic

Peng's accusation against Zhang is the first since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018. Authorities have worked to quickly quell discussion of sexual assault, even though the issue was largely confined to academia, advocacy groups and media.

The Communist Party has resisted any civil society actions that could spawn ideas and initiatives it cannot control. Social media is firmly in its grip.

President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign within the party often uses the catchall "lascivious lifestyles," in addition to bribery and abuse of power, to buttress the case against rank and file that have fallen out of favor.

Zhang Gaoli retired in 2018 and has mostly vanished from public life, as is customary for former Chinese officials.

Taiwanese face growing uncertainty

ar/nm (AP, Reuters)

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